Wisdom Literature, and the Issue of "Borrowing"...


One issue that typically arises in a study of the writing and transmission of the OT 'core' material, is that of 'borrowing'. This issue concerns to what extent the OT writers 'borrowed' ideas, theology, laws, religious practices from their 'pagan' neighbors, maybe even to the point of being dependent on those pagan ideas. There are those who claim that Judeo-Christianity is a 'copycat' religion, being created by massive plagiarism of the other (perhaps more basic and 'truer') religions of the world.

Since many of the alleged 'borrowings' occurred in the Wisdom Books of Proverbs, Job, and Ecclesiastes, I thought it would be good to survey these allegations, as well as to sketch out the nature and extent of Israel's borrowings from her neighbors in the ANE (Ancient Near East).

  1. Overview of Job, Eccl, Proverbs (drawn heavily from Kidner's well-crafted intro in The Wisdom of Proverbs, Job, & Ecclesiastes, IVP: 1985)

  2. The Historical Context of the Wisdom Literature

  3. What are the points of contact (e.g. similarities, shared features) between Jewish and other ANE wisdom literature?


  4. What are the points of discontinuity/disagreement?

    1. The view of God: Israel's writings are STRICTLY monotheistic; the ANE is STRICTLY polytheistic. (cf. Kidner, 42: "for polytheism has a natural bent towards turning the attributes of a high god into secondary gods or goddesses".)

    2. Values--we have already noted that other ANE law codes placed much more importance on property than on human life.

    3. Values-we have already noted that other ANE creation stories (e.g. Atrahasis epics) placed an anti-value on human life and procreation.

    4. Views of man--cf. Eccles 7.29: "This only have I found: God made mankind upright, but men have gone in search of many schemes", which says that our original state was that of 'uprightness'--with The Babylonian Theodicy (with A much lower view of our original 'condition'!):
      Narru, king of the gods, who created mankind,
      And majestic Zulummar, who pinched off the clay for them,
      And goddess Mami, the queen who fashioned them,
      Gave twisted speech to the human race.
      With lies, and not truth, they endowed them forever.

    5. Answer to the question of undeserved suffering:

      • Job doesn't really answer the question--it merely places it in a larger context of God's eminence.
      • "A Man and his God"--removes the problem by having the main character 'confessing sin'! (it is no longer, 'undeserved')
      • "Ludlul"--same as above: the main character turned out to be guilty anyway.
      • "Babylonian Theodicy"--has the main character succumb to the ordeal: "I will ignore my god's religion and trample on his rites"

    6. View of overall meaningfulness of life--The secularist's acceptance of limited objectives in Ecc 9:7-9 is the same advice the ale-wife gave to Gilgamesh in the Epic (PANE1: 64). The biblical writers argue for a radically different perspective--that of 'remembering thy Creator'.


  5. How then would we assess the extent, seriousness, and limits of Israel's 'borrowing' from her neighbors?

    1. Forms could be used, but content of those forms had to be replaced with true worldview perspectives.
    2. Forms could be used, esp. for opposite contrasts! (e.g. Atrahasis)
    3. Certain ritual positions were ALLOWED (e.g. priests), but others were FORBIDDEN (e.g. shrine prostitutes, cf. Dt 23.16--No Israelite man or woman is to become a shrine prostitute.).
    4. Certain ritual forms were NOT ALLOWED--even if stripped of 'content--cf Lev 19:27-28.
      "Do not cut the hair at the sides of your head or clip off the edges of your beard. Do not cut your bodies for the dead or put tattoo marks on yourselves. I am the LORD.
    5. Israel was commanded to NOT BE like the nations around her--this would have placed a significant damper on any types of 'theological assimilation' of Canaanite concepts into the OT writings (we know it made it into the general culture--from the prior studies in this series--but the point here is that it didn't make it into the writings. cf. Lev 20.23: You must not live according to the customs of the nations I am going to drive out before you. (see also Ex 23:24; Dt 18.9; 2 Kgs 16:3; 17.8; I Ch 5.25)


Summary: Israel's borrowing from her neighbors, in areas of religion and theology, DOES NOT include "CONTENT". Some linguistic and literary forms were okay (esp. in a 'spoof' or 'emphatic contrast' situation), but 'core' beliefs of Israel--monotheism, faith vs. magic/omens, God's surpassing wisdom, and the value of humanity--were NOT compromised in the literature.

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